Manitoba Hydro says it won't be turning over its financial forecasts for scrutiny by the Public Utilities Board any time soon.
On May 10, the independent tribunal with broad oversight and supervisory powers over Manitoba utilities gave the Crown corporation 30 days to to allow "the public to have access to information regarding the basis for the rates charged for electricity, and to trust that the monopoly utility is being regulated in the public interest."
On June 9, Manitoba Hydro responded, saying it will provide some information but doesn't have a "current approved" integrated financial forecast or capital expenditure forecast the utilities overseer ordered.
In its 19-page response to the PUB, Hydro said its actual financial results are consistent with past forecasts and "no substantial change in circumstances has occurred — existing rates remain just and reasonable."
The order follows a complaint earlier this year by the Consumers Coalition — which includes the Consumers' Association of Canada (Manitoba), Harvest Manitoba and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg — that the Crown corporation hasn’t held a general rate application hearing since 2018 or divulged its financial forecast since 2016.
In lieu of the long-term forecast the PUB ordered delivered, Hydro last week provided information such as the actual financial results for 2018-19 and 2019-20 compared to the budgeted outlook for these years, and actual capital budgets for 2020-21 and 2021-22 compared to the forecast of capital expenditures for these years.
"The response provided by Manitoba Hydro does not even begin to comply with the PUB order," said Gloria Desorcy, executive director of the Consumers' Association of Canada (Manitoba).
Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said Tuesday that Manitoba Hydro's written response shows it "follows all the regulatory and legislative requirements" and its financial position has seen no material change at this time.
The electric panel of the Public Utilities Board meets Thursday to review Hydro's response and will decide next steps, said PUB executive director Darren Christle.
"Manitoba Hydro is currently developing various initiatives under our long-term strategy related to ensuring we continue to serve our customers efficiently and cost-effectively in today’s evolving energy landscape," spokesman Bruce Owen said in an email.
As these initiatives are further developed internally, they’ll influence the long-term financial forecast to be submitted in our first five-year general rate application with the PUB in 2022-23.
The Progressive Conservative government hopes to enact new legislation this fall that critics warn will prevent Manitobans from keeping tabs on how well their electric utility is doing — and if the rates they're paying are fair.
Bill 35 (Public Utilities Ratepayer Protection and Regulatory Reform Act) would require Hydro to submit full general rate applications to the PUB only once every five years, allowing cabinet to set rates in the interim until the bill passes. The last general rate application was made in 2019.
"It's very concerning that Hydro would ignore this PUB order, but it seems to me that the reason they're doing it is because the PCs have this Bill 35 and they're trying to push it through later this year," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Tuesday.
He expects the government will pass another legislated hydro rate increase later this year, as it did with a 2.9 per cent hike that took effect Dec. 1, without PUB oversight.
"It's a very dangerous path that the PCs are leading Hydro on, where there's very little public scrutiny and ability to pierce the veil that's covering Hydro right now," Kinew said.